Category: Sermons

When numbers become names

Address for Armistice Day 2020

For over more than a century, people in the Commonwealth have gathered on this 11th November to remember those who have died in wars and armed conflict. Today, Armistice Day, marks the day that the First World War ended, on 11th November 1918. Over the course of that war, 880,000 members of the British forces died. This was 6% of the adult male population and 12.5% of those serving.

In the Second World War there were 384,000 British soldiers killed in combat, and 70,000 civilians in this country died largely due to bombing raids during the Blitz. In the 75 years since 1945, just over 7,000 members of the British military died in armed conflict.

Here at Hurst College, much smaller then than now, the numbers also reflect the enormous impact the two World Wars had. During the First World War 112 former pupils and teachers died in the service of their county. During the Second World War 75 men lost their lives. In addition to them, another ten members of this community have died fighting for our freedom in various other conflicts, including most recently in Afghanistan.

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Harvest abundance

Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address for Harvest
Friday 2nd October 2020: Ecclesiastes 3.1-8

It is probably fair to say that it has not been an easy week for many of us for a variety of reasons. Not least because it is the mid-point of this half-term, and the summer is now well and truly behind us. The situation is not helped by the fact that there are not the normal things to look forward to: fixtures, concerts and plays; time with friends at the weekends, and holiday plans for half-term. At the moment, every day can feel a little bit the same.

As human beings, we need a structure, a rhythm. To our days, our weeks and our years. That is what our reading speaks about as well: there is, and there should be, a time for everything. In other words, we need occasions, we need things to celebrate.

Today, as we celebrate Harvest Festival, we have a good reminder that, although we may forget at times, there is indeed a lot to celebrate, a lot to be thankful for. I have been incredibly impressed over the last week how all over the campus wheelbarrows have started to fill up with gifts you have brought. So much so, that we had many of them overflowing.

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By whose authority?

Sermon 27th September 2020, St John the Baptist, Clayton
16th Sunday after Trinity: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-end & Matthew 21:23-32

This morning, the overarching theme of our readings is the question of authority and responsibility. I would like to pick out two specific questions that our readings set before us. Firstly, from the reading of Ezekiel: can we be held responsible for the acts of previous generations? And secondly, from our Gospel reading: by whose authority do we act?

So let’s look at that first question first: how much responsibility can we take for the actions of others, particularly those of our ancestors? It is a relevant question now, as much as it was for the people in ancient Israel, albeit for different reasons, I suspect.

The Israelites had a proverb, we read: “The parents have eaten sours grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”. It talks about the idea that children will be punished for the sins of their parents. Now, through the words of the Prophet Ezekiel, God says that this proverb should no longer be used: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

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Go, and may the Lord be with you!

Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address
Friday 4th September 2020: Start of the Academic Year
1 Samuel 17.33-40: David & Goliath

The story we just heard, I am sure, is familiar to many. It is the story of David and Goliath: the story of the small boy determined to defeat the giant. Most of us too know how the story ends: David strikes down the giant with his sling and a single small stone. He defeats the enemy who had been terrorising the Israelites.

You may wonder: why this story today at the start of the new academic year 2020/2021? What can anything written so long ago teach us about ourselves and the world in which we live? I think rather a lot, and one of my hopes for our Chapel services is that we can all take something away from them, whether we are Christians, people of other faiths – or no faith –, or whether we don’t quite know yet what to believe.

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You give them something to eat

Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough 2nd August 2020
Eight Sunday after Trinity
Matthew 14.13-21: The Feeding of the 5000

IMG_0018When I hear the story of the Feeding of the 5000, immediately the image of an All Age service a few years comes to mind. The Open the Book team acted out the story of the ‘Marvellous Picnic’, and I remember the discussions on the logistics of how the bread should miraculously be multiplied after Jesus –  a role impressively played by Anna – blessed the loaves and broke the bread.

I don’t quite remember how it was done, but I do remember a sense of awe in the congregation, children and adults alike, as the bread appeared. There are many ways to interpret the events that lead all four Evangelists to record the Feeding of the 5000. However, no matter which interpretation we choose, the story makes the point that miracles happen, if we trust God and dare to get involved in His plan for us.

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Siblings and soil

Sermon 5th July 2020, Fifth Sunday after Trinity
Genesis 25.19-34 & Matthew 13.1-9,18-23

sowerThis morning we hear two iconic stories, which I am sure are familiar to many of us. The story of Jacob and Esau, in which Esau sells his birth right for an evening meal, and the parable of the sower, in which we hear about four types of different soil. As always, I think, when we read or hear these passages, the question to us is how we relate to them. How may these words speak to us today, this morning? What is it that we need to hear? The way I often try to do this is by imagining myself to be one of the people in the story or imagining what it would be like meeting one of them.

It seems that today’s readings lend themselves particularly well for this. For those of us who have siblings, we may look at our own relationships in the light of the dynamic between Jacob and Esau. And I suspect that many of us will hear the parable of the sower and wonder what type of soil we are.

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The Limits of Logic

A sermon for Trinity Sunday
2 Corinthians 13.11-13 and Matthew 28.16-20

trinityToday, the Sunday after Pentecost, is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is one of the most fundamental beliefs in Christianity. It is the belief that God is both one God, but yet three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The first defence of the doctrine of the Trinity does not occur until the 3rd century, and the concept as such is not mentioned in the Bible.

In today’s readings we see the two cases in which the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are mentioned in one breath. Together with the notion that Jesus is truly the Son of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, these beliefs form the foundation for the Christian belief in the Trinity.

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The way to freedom

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 7.55-60 & John 14.1-14

We have been adjusting to a new and unfamiliar way of life now for almost two months. We have come to realise the things we miss, and our hopes for the future. The news in these past few weeks has focussed almost solely on Covid-19, and I do wonder if we are indeed focussing too much on ourselves, but I will come back to this later.

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The one day on which the news here in the UK was different, was last Friday: VE or Victory in Europe Day. I suspect a particularly poignant day for those of you who remember the first VE Day: Churchill’s memorable speech and street parties throughout the country. The question in how far the Church should be involved in civic celebrations such as VE Day and Remembrance Day has always been a topic of conversation, as there is a wide range of opinions on the relationship between our faith and armed conflict.

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Taking bread

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
The Road to Emmaus – Luke 24.13-35

EmmausThe beautiful and intimate story that we hear in Luke’s Gospel this morning brings us back to the first Easter Day. On the same day as the women discovered the empty tomb, two of the disciples are on their way to a village called Emmaus, which is a good two hours walk.

As we can imagine, they are discussing the events of the past days. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem, their hope that Jesus would now show himself to be the Saviour he had told them to be. But then, his capture, condemnation and crucifixion; and now the empty tomb. They are trying to make sense of it all, but I suspect without much success.

This intimate setting of just two people walking and discussing together is one with which we may have become familiar in the last few weeks as well. If we are in a household with more than one person, we too may have had similar walks: discussing the current events and how to make sense of them. Or we may have had these conversations on the phone, or two meters apart in the queue to Waitrose or on our daily round of exercise. In whichever setting, I am sure that we too have found ourselves sad, bereft and anxious, just like these two disciples on the road.

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The doors are locked

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter
John 20.19-31

IMG_1366This passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples is traditionally read on the Sunday after Easter Day. It has striking similarities with the preceding passage, which we heard last week: Jesus’ appearance to Mary on the first Easter morning. Maybe one of the most striking differences, however, is the setting: where it takes place. Whereas Mary went to the tomb, searching, the disciples are in a house, hiding.

We hear that they have locked their doors, for fear of the Jews. Some commentators argue that the reason ‘for fear of the Jews’ was added in a later version of the narrative, as it does not appear when Jesus appears a second time a week later to reveal himself to Thomas also.

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